Thursday, May 15, 2008

If Not For the Decor -- La Parrilla

La Parrilla

Three Los Angeles locations:

3129 W Sunset Blvd 
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 661-8055

1300 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90017-1705
(323) 353.4930

2126 Cesar Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033-1823
(323) 262-3434

MC, Visa, Amex

I've been meaning for years to make it to one of the branches of La Parrilla, consistently mentioned by local Chowhounds as one of the top sit-down Mexican restaurants in L.A.  You know this is one of my favorite genres of foodie experience.  A few weeks ago, I finally made it to the branch on Sunset Blvd. in Silverlake.

There is so much wonderful to say about this place.  A stone-faced abuelita hand-making fresh tortillas at a station near the entrance: always a good sign. Guacamole made fresh at tableside.  Also, always good.  Our one fear, when we saw no bottles of booze on the wall, and wine margaritas on the menu, was that there was no tequila.  Our waiter, whether legally or not, promised us tequila, and the margaritas were in fact good and strong.   By all accounts, La Parrilla serves up decent versions of classic tacos, enchiladas, chiles rellenos and the like. 

But parrilla means "grill" en español, and that's where La Parrilla shines.  Find the selection of molcajetes and parrilladas.  A molcajete is a mortar bowl usually used for grinding ingredients (like your tableside guac).  Here they also come overflowing with various meats from the grill.  We had the "Azteca," featuring tender, moist grilled chicken and perfectly cooked carne asada, nopalitos (grilled cactus, which I've never had before... delicious!  Somewhere between a roasted bell pepper and an ortega chile), a grilled slab of mild panela cheese, and grilled scallions, all doused in a delicious, smoky, and delightfully spicy red chile huajillo salsa.

We also got a parrillada.  Same idea as the molcajete, but this is served on a small portable grill that comes to your table and continues to cook, char and caramelize your food as you plow your way through it.  We ordered the chetumal, an amazing array of grilled goodies: two skewers of shrimp al carbon, melt-in-your-mouth pork loin, chicken adobado, sliced red potatoes, a couple of whole jalapeño chiles.  All this is served with some of the better whole beans I've had in LA (with plenty of bacon to add flavor), Spanish rice, and a bowl of melted cheese sauce to add to whatever bites you wish.  Throw some of that together in your fresh, handmade tortilla, and holy guacamole, is it good.  And each of the molcajetes and parrilladas serve two to the point of stuffed... at $11-15 per person, that's a hell of a deal. 

But there's a "but..."

The decor sucks.  It's been described as "Tijuana chic."  That's being generous.  The layout of the place is bizarre.  You have to negotiate a seemingly endless maze of candy counters and carts to get to the seating area.  The lighting is harsh.  The requisite piñatas and plastic parrots look like they're beginning to rot.  And if you want to enjoy your food, don't even glance upward at the nasty drop ceiling; the oozing water-damage stains and general filth and squalor there might well put you off what is arguably the best sit-down Mexican fare in town.

I'm going to have to go check out the other locations; if I can find one a little less skanky, I'll become a regular.